NOBLESVILLE, Ind. -- Chemicals found leaking at a popular Indiana museum last week do not pose any immediate danger, according to the state's environmental management office.
The embattled Indiana Transportation Museum is in “serious default” of its lease while it’s under investigation by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management after the chemicals, which were first thought to be hazardous, were found leaking on the museum grounds.
After an inspection on Wednesday, IDEM says the chemicals are believed to be mostly oil-based and do not pose any immediate environmental threat - but will still need to be cleaned up.
The transportation museum, best known for running the State Fair Train and the Polar Bear Express trains throughout the year, was sent a letter by the City of Noblesville on May 30, notifying it of the investigation.
Because the museum sits right next to Noblesville's Forest Park, the leaks caused even greater environmental concern for city officials.
“Despite numerous efforts over the years to encourage ITM to address some housekeeping concerns they have allowed within their property, the Parks Board had no idea what hazardous conditions existed on the other side of the fence,” said Scott Noel, president of the Noblesville Parks and Recreation board of directors. “We are disappointed that ITM has violated the terms of its lease with the Parks Board and by allowing their carelessness to endanger one of the greatest assets in the City of Noblesville – Forest Park.”
Call 6 Investigates learned that there were multiple chemicals on the train museum’s property and many were leaking into the ground. The chemical containers and the ground around them were heavily stained.
A tip to the city led inspectors to find the containers, some leaking and stored improperly. But the city had no idea what was inside most of them because they weren’t labeled.
“[Inspectors] found a lot of barrels and containers, some were labels and some were not,” Tim Stottlemyer, Noblesville’s Clean Storm Water Program manager, said. “Some were leaking. Some, we had no idea of what was inside and were leaking.”
The property is owned by the city of Noblesville and leased by the transportation museum, but the city has full access to the property to inspect it at any time.
The city says the museum violated Indiana’s environmental laws and they immediately reported what they found to IDEM.
“It’s a very big red flag and concerning for the city,” Stottlemyer said.
According to the letter, the city is requiring the museum to file a clean-up plan with the city. A licensed environmental professional must be involved in the plan.
“Therefore, the City has no alternative but to demand that you immediately undertake containment measures for all stored liquid materials on your site to assure that this situation does not continue to deteriorate by polluting the land of the City, as well as potentially causing ground water contamination. The containment plan is the short term action to make sure the condition does not continue to deteriorate.”
The city anticipates cleanup to cost more than $100,000, according to the letter.
“We look forward to working closely with IDEM so they can complete a much more thorough inspection of the site and help evaluate ITM’s plans for remediation,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “We will do everything we can to ensure local taxpayers do not have to pay for the clean-up effort caused by the ITM due to its careless practices.”
The museum was banned from using the tracks that run from Tipton, Indiana to Indianapolis last year after seven volunteers raised safety concerns about mismanagement and unsafe operations of the museum. Since then, the museum has been trying to convince city and county leaders that they should be able to run on the tracks and there were no safety concerns at the museum.
IDEM is scheduled to inspect the property Wednesday and start removing the chemicals that were unsafe.
It released the following statement on Thursday:
"Yesterday an IDEM State Cleanup project manager was at the site to do an visual assessment to see if any immediate action was necessary. A cursory inspection was conducted and all contaminants found were believed to be oil-based and did not pose an immediate threat. A cleanup will be required, but an emergency response action is not necessary.
The City of Noblesville has already hired an environmental contractor who was at the site while our project manager was there. IDEM will send a letter to the city and ITM to notify them of their liability and what actions are required.
IDEM will continue to work with the City of Noblesville and ITM to make sure that an appropriate cleanup is completed and that the site is brought into compliance with state statutes and rules. The next steps will be for the city and ITM to do a site inventory and assessment followed by a cleanup plan which must be submitted to IDEM."
John McNichols, the Indiana Transportation Museum Board Chair, released the following statement on Wednesday:
"The pronouncement by the City of Noblesville and the Noblesville Parks Department about alleged environmental issues at the Indiana Transportation Museum site comes to us as a complete surprise. It is significant that Mayor Ditsler’s office cancelled a meeting scheduled for this morning (Wednesday, 5/31) with new ITM leaders where this could have been discussed and resolved. We were not aware of their concerns until the city’s news release and we have not been contacted by city officials.
This is another example of local political leaders’ unwillingness to work with the ITM and its new leadership to resolve differences. This latest release is simply another trumped up charge to reduce the significant public outcry against the cities of Fishers and Noblesville to rip up the rails.
The ITM has been in Forest Park since 1990. The site is a maintenance facility for vintage locomotives and other railroad historic artifacts. Museum maintenance personnel store and handle fuels and lube oils in the maintenance and operation of equipment. There are no known violations on the park property. To the best of our knowledge there have been no violations or complaints registered with IDEM. ITM pledges full cooperation with IDEM and their contractors to resolve any issues. Our new ITM management and staff will be addressing possible ground contamination issues with Hamilton County and IDEM to establish a plan to resolve any issues.
The Indianapolis Transportation Museum continues to believe in the economic and historic benefits of the Museum’s Nickel Plate trains and the entertainment, dreams and memories they offer. Our trains, crews and track have been certified by the Federal Railroad Administration and we continue to be bewildered at the opposition local leaders have to a true community asset."